Environmental Frontiers

Environmental Frontiers brings together University of Chicago faculty, students, and staff to collaborate on finding innovative ways to build a more sustainable future on campus and beyond.


South Campus Chiller Plant

The South Campus Chiller Plant generates chilled water and steam for the south and east sides of UChicago’s campus.

Environmental Frontiers (EF) creates student-faculty research and educational opportunities focused on the intersection of environmental sustainability and urbanization, with the goal of giving UChicago undergraduate students a scientific and practical understanding of sustainable urban development. Spanning the physical, biological, social sciences and the humanities, the initiative complements existing and emerging course curriculum in Environmental and Urban Studies, Environmental Sciences, and other programs.

EFCampus is the campus-based component of the initiative, enabling students in the College to use campus data to explore and enhance aspects of environmental sustainability, with an eye toward broader impact and applicability beyond the campus context.

EFCampus helps students craft research inquiries, effectively define a scope for data analysis, and use rigorous quantitative methods to determine a set of viable recommendations. By using UChicago’s campus as a case study, students are challenged to think deeply about what the data suggests are the most effective interventions to improve environmental efficiency and reduce unnecessary consumption.

EFCampus serves as a platform for the University of Chicago to advance sustainability through:

  • College Students: Supporting undergraduates in and beyond the classroom
  • Research: Conducting rigorous research leading to new insights for sustainable urban development
  • Campus Facilities/Operations: Operating UChicago’s physical campuses sustainably

View the session recording and slide presentation from the EFCampus online kick off event.

Read the bios for the new EFCampus Summer 2020 Research Assistants.

Current EFCampus research projects include: 

  • Laboratory Building Energy Analysis: Evaluate the energy performance of UChicago laboratory buildings benchmarked against other buildings with similar characteristics
  • LEED Building Performance Benchmarking: Compare performance of 16 LEED Buildings at UChicago against original energy models and consider opportunities for increased alignment
  • Water Efficiency Assessment: Benchmark current water use at UChicago, recommending water reduction goals and analyzing conservation strategies through technological improvements, behavioral methods and cost-benefit analyses

NEW: EFCampus Undergraduate Student Researchers Help Improve Sustainability on Campus and Work Towards UChicago Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Goals

EF also coordinates a variety of ongoing research and educational opportunities, including:

EFGalápagos is an international research opportunity for UChicago undergraduate students to gain critical computational and policy skills necessary to become future leaders in sustainability. The Galápagos present an ideal case study as the islands have a controlled in/out flow of resources – energy, building materials, waste, transportation, food and goods.

During this 8-week summer program, UChicago students gain an understanding of how development patterns on the Galápagos can lead to solutions to manage urbanization in a way that is beneficial for both people and the natural ecosystems. Utilizing technological innovations, data mining, and computational analysis, if our students can understand sustainability in an ecosystem as delicate as these islands, then there may be hope for other environments across the globe.

Read about the student research experience in Summer 2019

Global Sustainability Summer School

EF Global Sustainability Summer School (GSSS) provides an intensive two-week program on the role cities play in leading a global sustainability transition, hosted in partnership with the Santa Fe Institute. Participants learn from international thought leaders, experts and practitioners about the state-of-the-art in science, technology and policy toward creating systemic solutions for urban sustainability. 

The program is organized around a set of cutting-edge, interdisciplinary lectures on topics such as the nature of social and economic networks in cities, their role in economic growth and human development, their demands on resource consumption and emissions, and characteristics of new technologies that may shift the balance between the benefits and impacts of development.

GSSS will be offered next in Summer 2021. 

To learn more about the University of Chicago’s broader sustainability initiatives, visit sustainability.uchicago.edu.

Environmental Frontiers is an Initiative run by the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation in close partnership with the Program on the Global Environment (PGE), the Center for Robust Decision-making on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP), the Office of the Provost, and Facilities Services and the Office of Sustainability.

Faculty Leads

Elisabeth Moyer
Associate Professor, Atmospheric Science
Department of Geophysical Sciences

Sabina Shaikh
Director, Program on the Global Environment
Senior Lecturer, Environmental and Urban Studies

Internship Opportunities

Are you a UChicago undergraduate or MS student interested in environmental research and seeking to connect with faculty and staff who can offer research positions for Summer/Fall 2020? Check out this new resource here on RDCEP’s website.